MATTHEWS – You’re used to the picture by now: the Bulldogs run off with a big halftime lead, the marching band floods onto the field and in all corners of Matthews people hear the echoes coming from Butler High School.
But what you might not be able to see from the bleachers are instruments held together with wire and duct tape as the Butler marching band struggles to keep aging equipment in working order in the face of budget cuts and excessive use from a few too many state championship road trips – though the band’s not complaining about that.
“If we didn’t replace these tubas this year, we probably couldn’t have a marching band,” said Donna Sand, a co-president of the Butler Band Boosters Board and the mother of trumpet-player Jacob. Sand remembers standing next to a tuba player last year when the instrument disintegrated and sent pieces flying down the bleachers.
“They’ve just gotten to the point after 16 years of use that they are just falling apart,” Sand said.
The problem is, tubas are expensive. So are most of the instruments a marching band needs daily. That’s why, though some students bring their own instruments, the school provides some house instruments.
“We have kids in Matthews who literally want to be in the band but they don’t have an instrument and their parents don’t have the ability to buy them,” Sand said. “So we want to make sure band is available to everyone.”
And the house tubas are on their last legs. So are the saxophones, for that matter, and the xylophones – especially those with wheels falling off. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault; times are tough for a lot of organizations, and school districts are not immune to that. So the Butler band boosters are modernizing the instruments before any more can crumble down the Butler bleachers, and they need help to make it happen.
They’ve replaced two tubas – at $7,800 so far, but $20,000 is needed. They need to replace at least three more to accommodate how many tuba players are in the marching band this year. And doing so is about more than just having good-looking instruments. There are tournaments and festivals – and maybe another state championship trip – that the marching band needs to be its best at. That’s hard to do when the keys on your saxophone keep sticking mid-performance.
“We have great musicians in the band… it’s just the lack of new instruments is making it really hard on these players,” said junior Hannah Bridges, who plays the flute. “Some instruments malfunction at times, and it really inhibits the tuba players (and) produces a lesser quality of sound.”
So, the race is on to raise some dough. That kicks off in a big way at the Matthews Alive festival, held Friday to Monday, Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. The marching band is expected to kick things off at the parade, and booster volunteers will spend the weekend volunteering in the ticket booths. The band will receive a portion of ticket sales.
Next is the school’s 11th annual Festival of Bands, on Oct. 12, which will draw in marching bands from across the region bent on bringing home trophies and bragging rights. Butler hopes the event brings home both instrument funding and trophies.
The event will be a smorgasbord of themes performed by some of the best marching bands in the state. Twelve schools have signed up to compete so far. Butler’s young leaders say it’s something worth seeing, even if you don’t have an instrument sitting at home from your high school days.
“The music is amazing, and it’s just a great energy,” Hannah, the flute player, said. “You sit in the audience, and it’s dead silent as everyone watches the band perform. It’s a great feeling.”
The band will head from that performance straight to another – the Bands of America competition on Oct. 19 in Winston-Salem. “It will be huge,” Sand said of what is one of five competitions the band will take part in this fall.
That doesn’t include the football games, and there’s a bunch of them in a season that reaches into November. It’s a huge commitment from the students who have to do most of their marching band work on their own time.
“There’s a lot of long hours for these dedicated students,” Sand said.